Farm Ireland

Wednesday 25 April 2018

Wheat yields reaching 6t/ac in some fields

While the harvest in the earlier, drier and lighter soil areas is all but complete, the heavier ground, especially in the midlands and north east still have a bit to go. The changeable weather of last week also delayed progress.

Some spring wheat, beans and spring rape remain to be harvested in all areas. There is a great variation in yields across all crops and regions. There are reports of up to 6t/ac of wheat, with many reports of 4.5 to 5t/ac, particularly after oil seed rape and oats. Some continuous wheat yielded 3.5t/ac but many failed to even reach 3t/ac. With growing costs of more than €500/ac and a value of €155/t, a minimum of 3.25t is required to break even.

I have been on a number of combines over the last two weeks and it is frightening to see the variation in yield across fields.

Yield indicators on some combines in both wheat and barley were showing a difference of 2-6t/ac. Much of this disparity comes down to differences in soil type and depth across fields. The lighter land suffered from a combination of a shorter growing season and a dryer summer. It will be difficult to equalise such variations.

However, careful mapping and knowledge of fields with tailored management will help to minimise this difference.

Yields for both winter and spring oats would appear to be disappointing this year with many winter crops struggling to do 3.5t and many spring oat crops failing to reach 3t. Quality is a problem with some varieties. Spring barley has also shown enormous variation across regions. The south of the country, particularly in Wexford and Cork, has performed well with yields of up to 4t/ac reported.

In the Athy area yields of 2.5t/ac are more common. Malting barley protein levels are very high, more than 13pc, particularly in the Athy and Bagenalstown areas with many farmers experiencing more than 50pc rejections. From my own observations, it appears that the very early sown crops (February and early March) gave the highest proteins.

This early sowing coupled with the prolonged cold spell meant that crops sown a month later emerged as quickly and suffered no distress or setback.

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I believe that when this was combined with the warm dry summer that facilitated good mineralisation of soil nitrogen, and the return of the heavy rain around July 22 led to a luxurious uptake of late nitrogen and increased proteins.

Considering that many malting barley growers achieved prices of more than €260/t in 2012, their rejected malting barley making €150/t represents a significant income loss for the year. Yields of winter oilseed rape have also varied enormously from a low of 0.7t/ac to a high of more than 2t/ac. Again soil type, location, pigeon damage and the growing season has impacted on yields.

The flowering period for rape this year extended from late March to late May. This led to huge variation in ripening, difficulty in optimising the timing of desiccation and increased shedding at harvest.

Despite this, growers have planted reasonable acreages of rape again this autumn. At a cost of more than €450/ac to grow and a projected price of €340/t for next autumn, a minimum of 1.3t are required to break even.

In my opinion we are now in the last week in which winter rape should be planted. I believe the cut-off date should be September 10. Later sowing will work in some years, but remember the damage done by pigeons in 2012.

Hybrid varieties are best for late sowing with a target of 60 plants per square metre recommended. Slugs should be watched carefully with the regular use, and inspection of, slug baits. If more than five slugs per bait area are found over-night, pellets should be applied.

Depending on your fertility indices 20kg of N, 20kg of P and 60kg of K should be applied per hectare in the seed bed. Crops should be sprayed immediately post-sowing with Butisan S or Katamaran. Katamaran is better for cleaver and poppy control.

Volunteer cereals may have to be treated later.

Pat Minnock is a Carlow based agricultural consultant and a member of the ACA and the ITCA.

Irish Independent

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